Abstract

This is the first study of the introduction of the tractor in a Latin American country before 1930. Challenging conventional views on agricultural mechanization in Chile, the article shows that a progressive sector of upper-class landowners and state experts introduced tractors, primarily as a solution to poor plowing and low land productivity. The first tractors were tested in 1907, starting a process of technological innovation that resulted in the adoption of tractors after World War I. Introducing the tractor into the large estates of a peripheral rural society was a learning process for Chilean agriculturalists. The first “mammoth” steam tractors proved unsuitable for Chile’s farming practices, but, as US manufacturers produced more efficient models and local distributors successfully marketed them, landowners learned about their advantages. In the 1920s they adopted light, wheeled models that spread throughout Chile in the 1930s. The tractor was the culmination of a long process of mechanization of the Chilean hacienda system that developed from the 1850s. It was also a technological innovation that contributed to the drastic increase of cultivated land in Chile, and one of the sources of economic growth in Chilean agriculture in the early twentieth century.

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Notes

1. Charles J. Lambert, Sweet Waters. A Chilean Farm (London: Chatto and Windus, 1952), 204.
2. Daniel P. Gross, “Scale versus Scope in the Diffusion of New Technology: Evidence from the Farm Tractor,” RAND Journal of Economics 49, no. 2 (May 2018): 427-52; Rodolfo E. Manuelli and Ananth Seshadri, “Frictionless Technology Diffusion: The Case of Tractors,” American Economic Review 104, no. 4 (Apr. 2014): 1368-91; Stuart Oglethorpe, “The End of Sharecropping in Central Italy after 1945: The Role of Mechanisation in the Changing Relationship between Peasant Families and Land,” Rural History 25, no. 2 (Oct. 2014): 243-60; E. J. T. Collins, “The Latter-Day History of the Draught Ox in England, 1770-1964,” Agricultural History Review 58, no. 2 (2010): 191-216; S. A. Caunce, “Mechanisation and Society in English Agriculture: The Experience of the North-East, 1850-1914,” Rural History 17, no. 1 (Apr. 2006): 23-45; Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, “Reshaping the Landscape: The Impact and Diffusion of the Tractor in American Agriculture, 1910-1960,”Journal of Economic History 61, no. 3 (Sept. 2001): 663-98; William J. White, “An Unsung Hero: The Farm Tractor’s Contribution to Twentieth-Century United States Economic Growth,” Journal of Economic History 61, no. 2 (June 2001): 493-96; Dinah Martini and Eugene Silberberg, “The Diffusion of Tractor Technology,” Journal of Economic History 66, no. 2 (June 2006): 354-89.
3. Yovanna Pineda, “Farm Machinery Users, Designers, and Government Policy in Argentina, 1861-1930,” Agricultural History 92, no. 3 (June 2018): 351-79.
4. George McBride, Chile: Land and Society (Maryland: The Lord Baltimore Press, 1936). McBride earned a PhD degree in geography from Yale University in 1923 and published this book while serving as director of the Geography Department at UCLA from 1923 to 1942. Indicative of its importance in Chile, his book was translated into Spanish as Chile: su Tierra y su Gente (Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 1938) and thereafter had a great impact on the public debate on Chile’s agrarian issues. In fact, Chile’s Institute for Training and Research in Agrarian Reform (ICIRA), a state agency, published it again in Chile in 1970 and 1973, when the governments of Eduardo Frei (1964-1970) and Salvador Allende (1970-1973) implemented a drastic agrarian reform (1967-1973) that expropriated large landowners and, as McBride had long advocated, eliminated the large hacienda. See Homer Aschmann, “George McCutchen McBride, 1876-1971,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 62, no. 4 (Dec. 1972): 685-88.
5. George McBride, “The Agrarian Problem in Chile,” Geographical Review 20, no. 4 (Oct. 1930): 584.
6. McBride, Chile: Land and Society, 177.
7. McBride, Chile: Land and Society, xxi, 37, 60; Dirección General de Estadística, Agricultura 1935-36 (Santiago: Imprenta Universo, 1938), 35.
8. Arnold J. Bauer, Chilean Rural Society from the Spanish Conquest to 1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).
9. Silvia Hernández, “Transformaciones tecnológicas en la agricultura de Chile central. Siglo XIX,” Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios Socioeconómicos, no. 3 (1966): 1-31.
10. Bauer, Chilean Rural Society, 104-6. Differing from the conventional opinion on agricultural mechanization, some earlier works showed that agricultural machinery imports increased during the wheat export booms of 1850-1880 and continued despite the economic crisis of 1874-1878. See Gabriel Salazar, “Entrepreneurs and Peons in the Transition to Industrial Capitalism: Chile, 1820-1878” (PhD diss., University of Hull, 1984), 243-45; and William F. Sater, “La agricultura chilena y la Guerra del Pacífico,” Historia, no. 16 (1981): 125-49. In addition, the conventional interpretation did not consider that the diffusion of agricultural machinery took place in the late nineteenth century, even in some of the technologically advanced agricultural economies. Tractors began to spread after World War I, but still in the 1930s draft animals provided half of the horsepower in both the United States and England. See Domingo Gallego, “De la naturaleza, de la sociedad y del cambio técnico: El sector agrario español durante el siglo XIX y el primer tercio del siglo XX,” Historia Agraria, no. 9 (1995): 177-92; Ramón Garrabou, “Sobre el atraso de la mecanización agraria en España (1850-1933),” Agricultura y Sociedad, no. 57 (1990): 41-77; and Olmstead and Rhode, “Reshaping the Landscape,” 670.
11. On an earlier period of mechanization, see Claudio Robles-Ortiz, “Mechanisation in the Periphery: The Experience of Chilean Agriculture, c. 1850-90,” Rural History 29, no. 2 (Sept. 2018): 195-216.
12. In British agriculture in the twentieth century, most technological innovations were originally developed before 1935 but became widely used only after 1950 or even later. The adoption of the tractor, a nineteenth-century innovation manufactured in Great Britain since 1902, was also “at first slow, hampered by capital costs and steel wheels (for there were no rubber tractor tyres before the 1930s).” Paul Brassley, “Output and Technical Change in Twentieth-Century British Agriculture,” Agricultural History Review 48, no. 1 (2000): 60-84.
13. Alice H. Amdsen, Alisa DiCaprio, and James Robinson, eds., The Role of Elites in Economic Development (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
14. Peter Jensen, Markus Lampe, and Paul Sharp, “A Land ‘of Milk and Butter’: The Role of Elites for the Economic Development of Denmark” (paper presented at the Economics Seminar, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, July 2017).
15. Arnold J. Bauer, “Landlord and Campesino in the Chilean Road to Democracy,” in Agrarian Structure and Political Power: Landlord and Peasant in the Making of Latin America, ed. Evelyne Huber and Frank Safford (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburg Press, 1995), 21-38.
16. As historian Samuel Amaral noted long ago, “The traditional vision of Latin American rural estates as prestige-oriented rather than profit-oriented concerns has been increasingly challenged in recent decades.” Samuel Amaral, The Rise of Capitalism on the Pampas: The Estancias of Buenos Aires, 1785-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 211.
17. Bauer, “Landlord and Campesino,” 31.
18. Claudio Robles-Ortiz, “Agrarian Capitalism and Rural Labour: The Hacienda System in Central Chile, 1870-1920,” Journal of Latin American Studies 41, no. 3 (Aug. 2009): 493-526.
19. Patrick Barr-Melej, Reforming Chile: Cultural Politics, Nationalism, and the Rise of the Middle Class (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 106.
20. Thomas Wright, Landowners and Reform in Chile: The Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura, 1919-40 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 31
21. Brian Loveman, Struggle in the Countryside: Politics and Rural Labor in Chile, 1919-1973 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), 134-41.
22. Robles-Ortiz, “Agrarian Capitalism,” 521-22.
23. Loveman, Struggle in the Countryside, 136.
24. Wright, Landowners and Reform in Chile; and Claudio Robles-Ortiz, Hacendados progresistas y modernización agraria en Chile Central, 1850-1880 (Osorno: Universidad de Los Lagos, 2007).
25. Robles-Ortiz, Hacendados progresistas, 37-41.
26. The most important figure in that community was Julio Menadier, founder and chief editor of the Boletín de la Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura (BSNA), and truly an agrarian ideologue who represented the SNA and large landowners’ interests in the public sphere; see Claudio Robles-Ortiz, “Julio Menadier: A Listian Economist in the Chilean Public Sphere, 1850-1880,” in The Political Economy of Latin American Independence, ed. Alexander Mendes and Carlos Suprinyak (London: Routledge, 2016), 125-40; and Robles-Ortiz, Julio Menadier: La agricultura y el progreso de Chile (Santiago: DIBAM, 2012).
27. “Exposición Internacional Agrícola: Notas Editoriales,” Boletín de la Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura (hereafter, BSNA) 40, no. 8 (Sept. 15, 1909): 456-60. All the translations from Spanish are by the author.
28. “Propaganda Agrícola,” BSNA 45, no. 2 (Feb. 15, 1914): 68; El Agricultor (Apr. 1917): 88.
29. Roberto Opazo, “Los tractores y su aplicación en el país,” El Agricultor (Mar. 1919): 45-48.
30. Frank. H. von Motz, Markets for Agricultural Implements and Machinery in Chile and Peru, United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Special Agents Series no. 142 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1917), 20. Frank von Motz was an authoritative analyst. He was part of the US government’s large-scale initiative to expand American trade with South American countries following the outbreak of World War I, when, the New York Times wrote, these countries “were forced to turn to the United States for most of the manufactured products they had accustomed to get from Europe.” Von Motz was sent to study the market for agricultural equipment in Chile, Argentina, and Peru. See, “Business Chances in South America,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 1916.
31. “La moto-cultura aplicada en Chile,” BSNA 40, no. 12 (Dec. 1909): 730.
32. El Agricultor (Apr. 1917): 91.
33. Von Motz, Markets, 21.
34. Von Motz, Markets, 27-28.
35. Roberto Opazo, “Cosecha de cereales,” El Agricultor (Apr. 1917): 90.
36. “Resultados prácticos del tractor Bullock, modelo Baby,” La Agricultura Práctica 2, no. 5 (Sept. 1916): 959.
37. “El terreno y la siembra,” La Forestal 4, no. 23 (1922): 24.
38. “Aradura Mecánica,” La Forestal 4, no. 22 (1922): 12.
39. “Aradura Mecánica,” 11-12.
40. La Forestal 8, no. 63 (1926): 21.
41. Von Motz, Markets, 24, 38. Machinery prices are only occasionally available in Chilean sources, such as exhibition catalogues and newspaper advertisements, but data do not permit the construction of a series to track down the evolution of prices throughout the 1860-1930 period.
42. BSNA 33, no. 22 (1902): 566.
43. Von Motz, Markets, 38.
44. E. Murray Harvey, Economic Conditions in Chile (London: UK Department of Overseas Trade, HM Stationery Office, 1925), 45.
45. BSNA 42, no. 6 (June 1911): 379.
46. Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura, Actas del Directorio, sesión en 27 de julio de 1914; BSNA 45, no. 9 (Sept. 1914): 564.
47. Chile, Cámara de Diputados, Sesiones Extraordinarias, sesión 50a. en 13 de diciembre de 1918, 1214-15.
48. Philip L. Brock, “Mortgage Lending and Banking Crises in Nineteenth-Century Chile” (working paper, Economics Department, University of Washington, 2017), 38.
49. Opazo, “Los tractores y su aplicación en el país,” 46.
50. El Agricultor (May 1919): 112.
51. “Exposición de Ganadería y Maquinaria Agrícola de Temuco,” El Agricultor (Dec. 1919): 216.
52. Wright, Landowners and Reform, 17.
53. Memoria de la Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura presentada a los señores socios en Junta General de 22 de diciembre de 1919 (Santiago: Imprenta Nacional, 1920), 5-8; Opazo, “Los tractores,” 8. Escuela de Artes y Oficios, a technical institute founded in 1842, began training machinists and mechanics in the 1870s, and one of its first graduates even wrote a short textbook: José Wenceslao Hernández, El Maquinista, o sea instrucciones breves y sencillas para el manejo de las máquinas a vapor y trilladoras (Melipilla: Imprenta de El Progreso, 1876). Several other institutions also taught agricultural mechanics in the nineteenth century. At the Agricultural Institute, which became the first agronomy university college, professor Manuel Horacio Concha taught “Injeniatura Rural” (an older Spanish form for its English-language modern equivalent, agricultural engineering,) beginning in 1874, using his own textbook, Motores i maquinarias agrícolas. Nociones preliminares (Santiago: Instituto Agrícola, nd).
54. Sesión del Consejo Directivo de la Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura, April 7, 1919, El Agricultor (Apr. 1919): 89; Sesión del Consejo Directivo de la Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura, June 30, 1919, El Agricultor (July 1919): 156.
55. Von Motz, Markets, 38.
56. An example of such letters is the note that Mr. Estanislao Echeñique sent to Graham Rowe and Company, regarding a Twin City tractor: “I have not written until I was in the position to provide an opinion informed by the experience of work. The results that I have obtained in six months are absolutely satisfactory, with no troubles, except for those produced by my lack of familiarity with this tractor, and which I solved easily. I worked on very hard soils covered by blackberry, which I had not been able to cultivate before using this tractor. The machine is very well made in every aspect. It plowed two cuadras (3.2 hectares) daily, but never working more than seven hours. I am sure that, if needed, the tractor can plow three cuadras in a 9-hour workday. In sum, I honestly consider that, if operated by a careful person, the Twin City tractor is truly an evolution [sic] for an estate, and there is hardly a tractor so simple in construction and easier to check in case of repair.” La Forestal 3, no. 16 (Aug. 1921): 24.
57. “Crónica Agrícola: Ensayo del arado a vapor,” BSNA 39, no. 11 (Nov. 1907): 665-66.
58. “La moto-cultura aplicada en Chile”, BSNA 40, no. 12 (Dec. 1909): 730.
59. Roberto Opazo, “El tractor en los cultivos agrícolas,” El Agricultor (Sept. 1916): 211; and El Agricultor (Feb. 1919): 23-27.
60. Von Motz, Markets, 37.
61. Von Motz, Markets, 37. Similarly, Roberto Opazo noted that “It must be admitted that the system has been discredited in our country; due to the failure of progressive agriculturists who 10 or 15 years ago introduced the first tractors, the public opinion has turned against this system.” El Agricultor (Sept. 1916): 211.
62. In addition, von Motz remarked that fluctuating between thirty to fifty cents per gallon, which “would be considered high in the United States,” gasoline’s price “does not make power plowing out of the question, as has been clearly demonstrated in Cuba and in some parts of Brazil.” Von Motz, Markets, 36-37.
63. “El cultivo mecánico del suelo,” El Agricultor (Aug. 1916): 190-91.
64. “Resultados obtenidos en Chile con el Tractor Bullock Modelo C en el Fundo Santa Filomena de Paine,” La Agricultura Práctica (Mar. 1917): 1285.
65. “El tractor en los cultivos agrícolas,” El Agricultor (Sept. 1917): 211-15.
66. Roberto Opazo, “Ensayo de nuevos tractores aradores,” El Agricultor (Feb. 1919): 23-25.
67. Opazo, “Ensayo de nuevos tractores aradores,” 23.
68. Olmstead and Rhode, “Reshaping the Landscape,” 668.
69. Opazo, “Ensayo de nuevos tractores aradores,” 23-25; and Opazo, “Los tractores y su aplicación en el país,” 48.
70. Opazo, “Los tractores y su aplicación en el país,” 46.
71. Agricultural mechanization has been studied in specialized works of the current agrarian historiography of Chile; this summary is based on Robles-Ortiz, “Mechanisation,” 202-8.
72. Emilio Lorenzini, “Mecanización agrícola” (Memoria de prueba, Licenciatura en Ciencias Jurídicas y Sociales, Universidad de Chile, 1949), 36.
73. Moreover, as economic historians of Chile know very well, except for the period 1841-1889, this source never recorded the number of any agricultural machinery imports, but their weight in kilograms and their assessed value in current Chilean pesos for each type of machine. The complete series of agricultural machinery imports from 1841 to 1889 was constructed and first published in Robles-Ortiz, “Agrarian Capitalism,” 506.
74. Furthermore, although agricultural censuses and yearbooks did not differentiate tractors by type or brand, advertisements show that another indication of, and a factor contributing to, the tractor’s increasing diffusion was the variety of makes and models marketed in the 1920s. Some of the most frequently advertised tractors were the “Austin,” a model of English manufacture distributed by Gibbs and Company; an improved version of the “Fordson, the universal tractor”; “the Romeo,” an Italian machine of the most “solid construction”; the “Avery,” a kerosene tractor available in seven sizes and featuring “the only carburetor that has produced good results using kerosene as fuel”; and the “Baby,” a caterpillar model. See, La Forestal 6, no. 45 (July 1925): 18; and La Forestal 7, no. 61 (Nov. 1925): 8.
75. La Forestal 8, no. 66 (1926): 1.
76. Chile, Dirección General de Estadística, Comercio Exterior (Santiago: Imp. Universo, 1939), 124.
77. Oficina Central de Estadística, Anuario Estadístico de la República de Chile. Agricultura (Santiago: Imp. Universo, 1921), 118-21.
78. Carmen Cariola and Osvaldo Sunkel, Un siglo de historia económica de Chile, 1880-1930. Dos ensayos y una bibliografía (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 1991), 107-13.
79. The area planted with fodder crops tended to decline in the late 1920s but not so drastically as indicated by the 1930 census, whose data were flawed by errors in the process of gathering information. Dirección General de Estadística, Sinopsis Geográfico-Estadístico 1933 (Santiago: Imp. Universo, 1933), 161.
80. Claudio Robles Ortiz, “La producción agropecuaria chilena en la ‘Era del Salitre,’ (1880-1930),” América Latina en la Historia Económica, no. 32 (Dec. 2009): 113-34.
81. Oficina Central de Estadística, Censo de población de la República de Chile (Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Nacional, 1887); and Dirección General de Estadística, X Censo de la Población, Vol. III Ocupaciones (Santiago: Imp. Universo, 1930).
82. Robles Ortiz, “La producción agropecuaria,” 129-31; for the concept of “biological innovations,” see Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).